Lifestyle

Read with me rover

Reading with Rover dog Gabby, along with her owner Blake Kaiser spend some time reading at the Langley Library with Livia Lomne-Licastro. - Sarri Gilman
Reading with Rover dog Gabby, along with her owner Blake Kaiser spend some time reading at the Langley Library with Livia Lomne-Licastro.
— image credit: Sarri Gilman

Gabby’s an easy-going, mellow girl who loves everyone.

She’s 2 , blonde haired and completely inquisitive of the world.

When anyone walks past her, Gabby perks up. Her little docked tail wags eagerly and her excitement is barely contained in her furry body.

“She really loves people,” said Gabby’s good friend, Blake Kaiser. “Yes, Gabby you’re a good girl.”

Gabby, a buff cocker spaniel, can recognize 49 toys by name — she’s working on number 50. She can also fetch a ball based on description.

“She knows size, color and other details that would surprise you,” Kaiser said.

Gabby’s also quite the reader. Or, at least, she loves to listen.

This spring she and her owner, Kaiser, were often found at the Langley library where Gabby was spotted snuggling up with a child and a good book.

Gabby’s a Reading with Rover Dog.

Reading with Rover is a community-based literacy program that puts volunteers in Puget Sound schools, bookstores and libraries. It was founded by Bothell librarian MieMie Wu and dog trainer Becky Bishop. Dog trainer Dotti Snow provided some of the first Reading with Rover dogs.

The Woodinville-based program’s mission is to “inspire children to discover the joy of reading while developing literacy skills and confidence in a safe environment using Reading with Rover dogs.”

Depending on the situation, the dogs’ human partners from the program often sit nearby during a reading session. But they couldn’t be more invisible.

“When you get a child and a dog together there’s nothing in the world but them,” Kaiser said.

The program is loosely based on the R.E.A.D. (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) program in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is one of a growing number of reading assistance programs in the country that utilize dogs as reading partners.

“It’s a magical program,” Kaiser said. “Kids reading skills improve 50 percent within the first month and all they’re doing is reading to a dog.”

Just ask the kids at Woodmoor Elementary School in Bothell, where the Reading with Rover program is a permanent fixture. The students and the dogs were recently featured on a television special for Animal Planet.

“Animals can do so much more than we can,” Kaiser said. “They listen and develop relationships. And soon the kids aren’t just reading, they’re enjoying it and pointing things out to the dog.”

As the Woodmoor kids say in the Animal Planet segment, if the dogs didn’t hear and understand, they wouldn’t be wagging their tails.

While teachers, parents and other adults listening might be intimidating to a child with reading difficulties, the dogs are anything but, Kaiser said.

“When you see a child read without anxiety you know that it’s changing reading for them,” Kaiser said.

Langley Branch manager Vicky Welfare was all ears when Kaiser approached her with the idea to bring Reading with Rover to South Whidbey.

“The Arlington library has previously tried the program and had positive results, so it sounded like a perfect fit for Langley,” Welfare said. “We’re always interested in finding new ways of connecting kids with books.”

Kaiser and Welfare tried to get the program up and running this summer but the dogs nor the readers were there to make it happen.

“Families often have other things on their mind than reading during the summer,” Welfare said.

“We just didn’t have the dogs,” Kaiser said.

Welfare said she’d like to make Reading with Rover a regular program at the Langley Library. At the moment, due to Kaiser’s schedule and the fact that Gabby is the lone reading dog, reading times are limited.

But now, with school back in session, Kaiser is spreading the word at local schools and sending out a call for a few good dogs to come read, Rover.

Reading with Rover does more than make reading partnerships between dogs and kids.

Through the help of its sponsors — which, among others include Whole Foods, Invisible Fence Northwest, Puppy Manners and National Dog Day — Reading with Rover also works to supply new books to at-risk and below grade level readers and offer scholarships to shelter dogs with read team potential.

All Reading with Rover dogs have to be certified through the Delta Society as a pet partners therapy team, so if anyone has a dog they think has reading potential they should contact Kaiser or Reading with Rover.

“We really do need other dogs to make this happen here locally,” Kaiser said.

Gabby’s been certified as a therapy dog through the Delta Society — an international organization that certifies companion, service and therapy animals — since she was 1 year old.

“I started incorporating the training she’d need pretty early on,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser is a professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work, but she’s a therapist by training who continues to practice individually. Gabby often accompanies Kaiser when her owner visits Stevens Hospital in Edmonds.

Gabby knows her doggie duties based on her doggie accessories.

If Kaiser pulls out the green Delta Society vest, then Gabby’s likely going to work at Stevens Hospital.

If it’s the denim Reading with Rover bandana collar — woof, woof — then it’s a day reading with the kids.

“She knows what her work is based on what she has to wear and she gets prepared for that job as soon as you put that particular collar or vest on her,” Kaiser said.

When they arrive at the library on a typical visit, Kaiser lays out Gabby’s plush mat and introduces the small dog to her reading partner for the day. After the child scrambles to pick out a book everyone settles into reading. In fact, Gabby often lays so still, Kaiser said, that she almost appears to be a stuffed animal.

“She fell asleep while a little girl was reading to her once and I had to explain that she was paying attention, she was just so relaxed by hearing the reading that she dozed off,” Kaiser said.

Gabby’s head only perks up as new people walk by (especially kids) or when she hears her name, “Yes Gabby, you’re a good girl.”

While Gabby has an arsenal of tricks, Kaiser has given the pup a few extra that make the reading time fun.

“I teach the kids little ways they could interact with Gabby,” Kaiser said. “If they point to an animal, Gabby will probably point too. It lets them know she’s listening.”

There’s also lots of sniffing the pages, and a furry head resting on sneakers.

Afterward the kids often can give Gabby a treat for being such a good listener. And Kaiser gives them a bookmark with Gabby’s adorable picture. Each Reading with Rover dog even gives paw-de-graphs.

“There’s kids who try to collect paw-de-graphs and bookmarks from all the dogs,” Kaiser said.

Gabby even has an e-mail address on the bookmarks and even keeps in touch via mail with some of her readers, Kaiser said.

Go figure, a dog that can read and answer e-mail. Woof.

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